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News Corp is the user – You are the producer

It’s Rupert Murdoch’s Internet, you just live in it – or so Murdoch argues in his World Media Summit speech. PaidContent.org has posted a transcript of the speech Murdoch delivered in Beijing on 10/09/09. It’s a three part speech with one message: if you use the Internet, whether you’re the People’s Republic of China or Internet users in the U.S., you’re probably stealing his property (or at least devaluing it). A defense of (his) property rights that concludes with an ironic plea for “our planet” to be as borderless as . . . the Internet (cue the Twilight Zone intro).

To put the speech in some context, the keynote was delivered at the Word Media Summit to an audience of mostly Chinese business people. The Word Media Summit was a two day conference organized by some of the world’s largest news organizations: Xinhua News (China), News Corporation, Associated Press, Reuters, ITAR-TASS (Russia), Kyodo News (Japan), BBC, Turner Broadcasting System, and Google. As Murdoch notes in his introduction, his speech aimed to divide the “digital world” into three parts:

How media is being transformed… how the Chinese media can take advantage of that transformation…and some steps necessary to ensure that the Chinese people are in a position to realize their potential.

I found the section dedicated to attacking “content kleptomaniacs” to be the most interesting. This user-bashing is nothing new, of course, as Murdoch has been a prominent advocate of paid-for Internet content (see Grinch Alert: Rupert Murdoch). What’s interesting is how much this speech reminded me of Bill Gates’ “Open Letter to Hobbyists,” where Gates demanded that computer hobbyists “pay up” for “stealing” his software. This letter was penned back in 1976, when software was widely considered to be free (while hardware, services, and manuals were something you paid for). In his letter, Gates’ argued that software must be proprietary and paid for to qualitatively improve. . . you know, so people could pay gobs of money for “quality” software like Windows Vista.

Back to Murdoch. In his “how media is being transformed” section of the speech, he argues:

Of course there should be a price paid for quality content, and yet large media organizations have been submissive in the face of the flat-earthers who insisted that all content should be free all the time. The sun does not orbit the earth, and yet this was precisely the premise that the press passively accepted, even though there have been obvious signs that readers recognize the reality that they should pay a price.

There are many readers who believe that they are paying for content when they sign up with an internet service provider, presuming that they have bought a ticket to a content buffet. That misconception thrived on the silence of inarticulate institutions which were unable to challenge the fallacies and humbug of the e-establishment.

The value of content has been volatile in the past decade but we are entering another decisive phase in which device makers are again courting the creators of content. I have sensed that shift in recent days during my travels in Japan and South Korea where I met some of the world’s leading electronics manufacturers. These companies don’t want their customers to be served a diet of digital dross, and yet that will be the inevitable consequence if the worth of content and creativity are not appreciated.

The Philistine phase of the digital age is almost over. The aggregators and the plagiarists will soon have to pay a price for the co-opting of our content. But if we do not take advantage of the current movement toward paid-for content, it will be the content creators, the people in this hall, who will pay the ultimate price and the content kleptomaniacs will triumph. (emphasis added)

Like Gates’ before him, Murdoch willfully ignores the unwaged labor that he so handsomely profits from. Murdoch sees News Corp, AP, BBC, Xinhua, and the like, as the only rightful (and thus recognized) producers of content – just as Gates sees Microsoft’s hired programmers as the only rightful producers of his software. But what about the millions of MySpace users who freely produce untold volumes of content that News Corp then monetizes for a hefty profit?  What about all the blogs that News Corps’ journalists read and take information from without so much as a citation, never mind compensation. What about all the people that freely participate in beta-testing Microsoft’s software and the millions of software “users” who report problems and freely contribute their time and energy to improving Microsoft’s content? If it’s obvious that “there should be a price paid for quality content” — which I’m willing to support — then how much will News Corp be paying for all the free quality content it uses, and how will it compensate all the unwaged labor it uses?

Kevin Kelly’s “We Are the Web” essay in Wired is instructive here. As Kelly notes, ‘in the beginning’ big corporations were unwilling to invest in the Internet because they felt it would be too expensive to produce the “high production-value content” necessary to make their efforts worthwhile. Now, over a decade later, millions of Internet “users” have produced the overwhelming majority of cyberspace. So who exactly are the “users” here, and who are the “producers”? Murdoch can deem free content as “Philistine,” and he can rail against pirates, plagiarists and aggregators — all of which he characterizes as “content kleptomaniacs” — but such a speech needs to be delivered in front of a mirror.

Corporations like News Corp are the users. We are the producers.

FDR on Security

A good deal of my dissertation is concerned with notions of security, and insecurity, in informational environments. While my primary concern is with young people’s experiences and understandings of cyber(in)security, I’ve also taken an interest in contemporary and historical discourses of security (e.g. Seven Takes on Security). So, I was excited to see Michael Moore discuss Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Economic Bill of Rights” in his new documentary. In his final 1944 State of the Union speech, with the U.S. near the end of WWII, FDR called for “a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all.” What’s more, the focus on security is often related to “our children” — he describes “a sacred obligation to see to it that out of this war we and our children will gain something better than mere survival” in the 4th sentence.

In summarizing his diplomatic discussions with “Mr. Hull,” “the Generalissimo,” “Marshal Stalin,” and “Prime Minister Churchill,” FDR defines a new supreme objective for the future:

The one supreme objective for the future, which we discussed for each Nation individually, and for all the United Nations, can be summed up in one word: Security.

And that means not only physical security which provides safety from attacks by aggressors. It means also economic security, social security, moral security—in a family of Nations. (emphasis added)

The speech, which you can read in full at TeachingAmericanHistory.org, concludes with a call for a “second Bill of Rights” to ensure such economic, social, and moral security:

It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known. We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people—whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth—is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, and insecure.

This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights—among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.

As our nation has grown in size and stature, however—as our industrial economy expanded—these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.

We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.

In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all—regardless of station, race, or creed.

Among these are:

  1. The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
  2. The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
  3. The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
  4. The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
  5. The right of every family to a decent home;
  6. The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
  7. The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
  8. The right to a good education.

All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being. (emphasis added)

It’s notable that he links the expansion of our industrial economy with a need for new rights to ensure equality in the pursuit of happiness. I rarely hear “security” discussed in terms of ensuring happiness. I also find his “Necessitous men” quote notable (4th paragraph above). The FDR American Heritage Center includes a footnote for this quote, from The Public Papers & Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt Vol XIII, that states:

“Necessitous men,” says the Lord Chancellor, in Vernon v Bethell, 2 Eden 113 (1762), “are not, truly speaking, free men; but, to answer a present emergency, will submit to any terms that the crafty may impose on them.”

Security, to FDR, is thus physical, economic, social, and moral. It is necessary for the equal pursuit of happiness in an industrial economy. And, it affords citizens the freedom to resist terms imposed on them from the “crafty” during emergencies.

Of course, FDR’s “Economic Bill of Rights” never materialized in America and his declaration that “we shall not repeat the excesses of the wild twenties when this Nation went for a joy ride on a roller coaster which ended in a tragic crash” was unfortunately proven false. America – Fuck Yeah!

Grinch Alert: Barry Diller

The GrinchAccording to Bloomberg.com, Barry Diller (Chairman and CEO of IAC/InterActiveCorp) has joined a growing list of corporate executives trying to convince the public that they should pay for the online content that has largely been produced by the public — for free:

“It is not free, and is not going to be,” Diller said today at the Fortune Brainstorm conference in Pasadena, California. In addition to IAC, he is chairman of Expedia Inc., the online travel service, and Ticketmaster Entertainment Inc.

Diller, 67, joined a group of media chiefs, from Liberty Media Corp.’s John Malone to Walt Disney Co. CEO Robert Iger, who are challenging the accepted model that consumers pay for Internet access and then content is free. Diller predicted there will be three revenue streams: advertising, subscriptions and transactions.”

Advertising and transactions are one thing – while both are fraught with ethical, moral, and legal concerns, they have nonetheless become established “revenue streams” for many online companies. The advanced targeting capabilities afforded by the Internet delivers consumers to corporations more effectively than print media or television could have ever dreamed (e.g. facebook), and many people — myself included — have demonstrated a willingness to pay (or pay more) for “secure” transactions (e.g. PayPal). But subscriptions? Why should anyone have to pay for online content, the overwhelming majority of which has been freely produced by the public?

Propertizing free information, and charging people to access it, is an awfully Grinch thing to do.

Goldman Sachs and the war on (loose) code

Loose nukes code is fast becoming an object of national security. Like their industrial cold war predecessors, code  has been framed as the informational equivalent of a loose nuke — potentially capable of obliterating markets and governments if obtained by a rogue state hacker. This growing meme has been furthered most recently by the news of an ex-Goldman Sachs computer programmer who allegedly circulated proprietary trading code:

Sergey Aleynikov, an ex-Goldman Sachs computer programmer, was arrested July 3 after arriving at Liberty International Airport in Newark, New Jersey, U.S. officials said…

At a court appearance July 4 in Manhattan, Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Facciponti told a federal judge that Aleynikov’s alleged theft poses a risk to U.S. markets. Aleynikov transferred the code, which is worth millions of dollars, to a computer server in Germany, and others may have had access to it, Facciponti said, adding that New York-based Goldman Sachs may be harmed if the software is disseminated.

According to Reuters, who broke the story:

Federal authorities say the platform quickly processes rapid developments in the markets and uses top secret mathematical formulas to allow the firm to make highly-profitable automated trades.

Aside from its entertaining similarities with the 1997 film The Spanish Prisoner, I find this news story particularly interesting b/c of the way it brings into focus 4 interrelated phenomena:

  1. Automated trading software has become a prominent actor in the manipulation of national and global markets.
  2. Corporate propertization of code has become a strategy for shaping such manipulation (cf. 1) according to its own economic interests.
  3. Government has engaged in globally policing proprietary code to ensure that the informational restructuring of the economy (cf. 1 & 2) continues to favor current power-holders.
  4. Individuals within the informational work force have emerged as potentially destabilizing actors in informational restructuring (cf. 1 & 2) and are thus becoming objects of national cybersecurity (cf. 3).

As Jon Stokes over at ars technica argues, the US government and Goldman Sachs aren’t concerned that this proprietary trading code could manipulate the market (that’s exactly what it’s designed to do) — they’re concerned that if this code gets “loose” it could challenge Goldman’s standing as a primary market manipulator. Whether these allegations turn out to be true or not, what’s apparent is how this event has been framed as a “wake up call” (as a former chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission put it) for  financial institutions to acknowledge the importance of their code by enhancing efforts to lock it down. This, naturally, requires greater government and private policing of informational borders, and greater surveillance of the individuals who interact with intellectual property in order to mitigate the potential power of certain informational workers.

goodbye learning, hello workforce training

Some sad news regarding the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project:

Microsoft has joined forces with the developers of the “$100 laptop” to make Windows available on the machines.

According to Wired, Microsoft has had their sights on emerging markets in developing countries for a while now and have viewed low-cost children’s laptops as ideal vehicles for distribution. Until recently OLPC has resisted integrating Windows into their XO Children’s Machine, insisting that free and open-source software was central to their constructionist learning philosophy and necessary to give “children the opportunity to use their laptops on their own terms” (for more background see here, here and here). Sugar, the Linux based operating system designed for the XO Children’s Machine, has been described by OLPC as the “core” of their laptop’s interface and to the sharing and learning affordances of the machine.

olpc's blue screen of death

Yet, according to OLPC, it now appears that Windows XP will be bundled with the XO. This decision has apparently been motivated by countries, such as Egypt and Columbia, demanding that the computers carry Windows before they agree to buy in to the program. Their reasoning seems to be that they aren’t interested in machines for learning and sharing, they want machines that will train a generation of children for a future tech-based workforce. Not learning how to think — learning how to USE Excel, PowerPoint, Word, etc…

Nicholas Negroponte (founder and chairman of OLPC) claims that a dual-boot option, similar to Apple’s, which allows the child to choose between Windows and Sugar is in the works — yet Ivan Krstić, the former top security architect for OLPC argues otherwise:

The whole “we’re investing into Sugar, it’ll just run on Windows” gambit is sheer nonsense. Nicholas knows quite well that Sugar won’t magically become better simply by virtue of running on Windows rather than Linux. In reality, Nicholas wants to ship plain XP desktops. He’s told me so. That he might possibly fund a Sugar effort to the side and pay lip service to the notion of its “availability” as an option to purchasing countries is at best a tepid effort to avert a PR disaster.

Krstić goes on to write that this realization that learning was never part of the OLPC mission (i.e. the mission is about laptop distribution) is precisely what lead him to resign from the project. Krstić concludes his post, in part, by stating:

OLPC can’t claim to be preoccupied with learning and not with training children to be office computer drones, while at the same time being coerced by hollow office drone rhetoric to deploy the computers with office drone software.

Although disagreeing with a number of key points made in a recent post by Richard Stallman (founder of the free software movement), Krstić and Stallman appear to agree on what is at stake here. As Stallman puts it, this is about “whether the XO is an influence for freedom or an influence for subjection.” Indeed, close attention to the built pedagogy of the XO Children’s Machine is needed. As the XO shifts from an entirely free and open-source machine (with the exception of a proprietary firmware program for wifi access) designed for the promotion of open learning and sharing in the social and structural environments of developing countries — to one that increasingly adopts proprietary software for the vocational training of a future workforce — the lessons being taught are of great importance. Lets be clear, its not a mistake that the mesh networking capability of the XO, which allows the computers to talk to one another and share data, is not currently supported by Windows XP. And I don’t expect that problem will be “fixed” anytime soon. If it is ever “fixed,” the sharing component will be tightly controlled and heavily regulated.

In a previous post about the XO, I praised its mesh networking capability as a way to generate autonomous communication networks which might help afford a new media space for citizen power. Of course, such autonomous digital communication poses a threat to intellectual property enforcement and thus a threat to Microsoft’s entire business model. If information and communication flows freely in developing countries (aka “new markets”) it makes it more difficult to start charging one day. Immersing children, early on, in proprietary environments where information circulation is tightly controlled and intellectual property rights are strictly enforced, helps to socialize a generation that will continue to play by the old rules rather than one that will challenge them by imagining new rules. In fact, “play” is exactly what is being co-opted here. Children’s play in technological environments (in this case, the XO) is being shaped to socially reproduce certain behaviors for future work in an informational economy. Of course children are not passive recipients, they are actors in this equation. What they do in these proprietary environments and how they may (or may not) reclaim play for creative and innovative purposes is worth watching.



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